Kurnool & Hyderabad, Sept. 25: In a suspected case of sabotage, 14 persons, including two children, were charred to death when an Andhra Pradesh Road Transport Corporation bus caught fire in Mahboobnagar district late last night.
Eyewitness accounts and preliminary police inquiry pointed towards sabotage. Chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu has ordered a CID probe into the fire that engulfed the luxury bus proceeding from Hyderabad to Rayachoti in faction-ridden Cuddapah district.
“We have ordered a CID inquiry to probe all angles, and some bottles containing chemical substances have been sent for forensic examination,” Naidu told reporters in Hyderabad after visiting the mishap site in Itikyala village, 35 km from Kurnool town. Eighteen people have been injured, five of them seriously.
According to eyewitnesses, a passenger sitting in the last row of the bus doused petrol and set fire to the bus while it was speeding down National Highway 7 around 1 am.
The bus, carrying 35 passengers, was engulfed in fire while most people were sleeping.
The police were baffled over the nature of the operation and the motive as eyewitnesses spoke about a youth emptying the inflammable substance from a container he was carrying and throwing a lighted matchstick, turning the bus into a mobile inferno.
While eight passengers died on the spot, five succumbed to injuries in hospital. The condition of five others was stated to be critical with some of them sustaining 80 to 90 per cent burn injuries.
Naidu, who rushed to the mishap site and visited the hospital, announced an ex gratia of Rs 1 lakh to the relatives of victims and Rs 50,000 to the injured.
“We have ordered a forensic science laboratory to conduct a thorough examination,” he said.
Naidu did not rule out sabotage by terrorist elements. He told reporters at the secretariat this evening that the police had identified four boys --- three Muslims and one Hindu who had come from Delhi via Mumbai to Hyderabad and were proceeding towards Cuddapah --- as allegedly involved in the torching of the Rayachoti-bound hi-tech night service bus. The four youths had been taken into custody and were being interrogated, the police said.
Stating that several “doubts were emerging” in the case, Naidu said the antecedents of the youths had to be established first. The chief minister quoted a woman eyewitness, who later succumbed to her burns, telling her husband that she saw a youth dousing a petrol-like substance and setting the bus on fire.
Among the dead was a family with two children, leaving behind their grandmother, Fatima Bee, as a witness to their burning.
Fatima told reporters her son pushed her out of the bus. “Actually, my son tried to stop the youth from spraying the explosive material on the floor and seats of the bus. One of the youths poured the same liquid on his body in anger and he was lit before my own eyes,” she said.
The dead included three students who had just appeared for their medical admission examinations.
Police officials admitted they had seized two to three empty bottles, allegedly containing some chemical residue. “We are examining their contents,” said Mahboobnagar superintendent of police K.P. Meena.